LG G5’s Modular Smartphone Review

Review Weekly Staff

You’re familiar with the routine: Every two years we take our most coveted device, our smartphone, and toss it aside for the latest and greatest. But now as we reach a new plateau in technology, advancements will begin to come more slowly. Your screen already has more pixels than your naked eye can detect. Cloud storage is making gigabytes sound archaic. So maybe some of your old phone is worth keeping.

The cold and simple truth is that we no longer need to replace our whole phone every two years. This is why the idea of a modular smartphone is so exciting. Google’s announced Project Ara aims to launch in Puerto Rico soon, which boasts an entirely modular design. But the big G is embroiled in delays, which is keeping this project from seeing the light of day.

Enter LG. As a follow up to LG’s incredible G4, the G5 offers basic modular functionality and is the first smartphone with swappable internals that you can go out and purchase right now across the U.S.

Key Specs

  • 5.3-inch IPS QHD screen
  • 2,800mAh battery
  • 16-megapixel rear camera, 8-megapixel front camera
  • Snapdragon 820 processor
  • 4GB of RAM

 

 

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The Good

There’s a special kind of trickery writing a review about a phone that is the first of its kind. Those old enough to recall 2007, might remember that after the iPhone was announced it was quickly trashed by Steve Ballmer, head of Microsoft at that time.

He balked at the lack of a physical keyboard. “It doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard, which makes it not a very good email machine,” he said. So breaking down what makes this phone good is something of uncharted territory. Much of the comparison comes from other phones that aren’t really part of this new modular paradigm. So let’s get some of the boilerplate positives out of the way:

  • While this might not have been the first announced modular phone, it’s the first to hit the American market, which in and of itself is reason to applaud LG for its mass-market bravery.
  • The G5 includes the next iteration of LG UX, which runs on Android Marshmallow.
  • For much of this phone’s shortcomings, it has enough to like from its incredible predecessor, the G4.
  • Metal body design.
  • Dual-camera design with one wide angle lens and one more standard lens.
  • Removable battery.
  • Fingerprint sensor.
  • USB-C charging/data port.

Now, for more on the modular aspect of this phone. You are able to yank the bottom base-portion off this phone, which is the metal bit where the LG logo sits below the screen. Pulling off the bottom also removes the battery and allows you to add additional hardware. Currently, these modular pieces are collectively called “friends,” likely due to the fact that LG is partnering with other companies to create these specialized pieces.

The first, and only one that we’re putting in the good category is the LG Cam Plus. Retailing for an additional $70, the LG Cam Plus provides the user an additional battery with 1,200mAh of juice and physical camera controls.

Those physical camera controls are a bit lacking. A two-stage shutter button like most DSLRs and a zoom dial are really the only additional features this friend offers beyond a little extra battery juice. Since the zoom dial lacks any real friction, which makes using it feel cumbersome and imprecise. This can lead to soft shots in the field, which makes it a hard sell to the audience it hopes to attract.

It’s clear that with the addition of two lenses, LG hoped to attract semi-serious cellphone photogs, but the laggy interface and clunky inclusion of the two lenses, this seems more poised to be a gimmick than a real selling feature.

 

 

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The Bad

And of course, we couldn’t get through a review for a paradigm-busting piece of tech without a few issues, could we? LG, try as they might, didn’t quite nail the sweet spot for average Americans looking for the next big thing in mobile tech.

For starters, there’s a notable gap between the removable bottom and the rest of the phone. Something that might’ve been less of a problem a few years back is now something that is sure to annoy most users. Especially considering rival Samsung’s big push on waterproof phones over the last year or two. LG’s push into uncharted territory with a modular design shouldn’t have come at the cost of a soon-to-be standard feature among Android phones.

Also, if you’re already scouring the web looking for new cool modular pieces *ahem* friends for your phone, you’ll need to keep this in mind: Those modular pieces are region locked. That means the LG Hi-Fi Plus, which boasts the ability to upgrade sound to 32-bit quality, isn’t available in the U.S. market.

If you attempt to add a modular piece not allowed in your region, your phone literally will not turn on. You’ll have to remove the piece before you can even make a phone call. This also touches on the other big reservation with this phone, swapping out parts forces you to power down the phone. There is no hot swapping available at this time. This is a huge shortcoming, perhaps understandable, but something that’s going to need ironing out if LG hopes for this to catch on.

 

 

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How to Fix this Phone, LG

What would this review be without a quick note to LG on how to improve this daring new device standard in the smartphone world?

It may take longer to prepare these modular “friend” pieces for release, but please don’t region lock any of them. If you’re trying to create an ecosystem with any longevity and excitement in the user base, you don’t want to dash anyone’s dreams to know they live in the wrong country to buy the piece they want for their phone. That’s a surefire way to crush enthusiasm for your product’s potential.

Also, please add a permanent auxiliary battery so we can hotswap these components! Even if that means we only get 10-15 minutes of power when we pull out the bottom, let’s make that happen!

Fix the fit of the bottom with the rest of the phone so this thing can be somewhat water resistant. Otherwise, Samsung will make your product look ancient, despite your attempts to shift the paradigm of smartphone tech.

 

 

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Takeaway

This is a bold effort from an unexpected company. Smartphones are due for this kind of advancement, and it was smart for LG to beat Google to the mainstream market. Perhaps the most exciting thing about the G5 is that the modular design means this phone can quite possibly get better with age. And that is something that truly changes the smartphone market for the better!

 


Review Weekly Staff

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